Last week’s sudden sacking of 800 P&O workers did not just represent a shocking disregard of basic employment law but was also an indictment on the sorry state of British workers’ rights.
As Neil Todd of Thompsons Solicitors, which is acting for the RMT union, explained: “P&O’s sudden decision to fire all 800 UK staff – via a pre-recorded video call and without a single shred of consultation with the recognised trade unions or affected employees – is a shocking disregard of the most basic employment law principles.
“There is a duty to collectively consult when an employer is proposing to dismiss 20 or more employees at any one establishment and in this case that consultation should have taken place with the RMT. If there had been collective consultation it would have required engagement about whether jobs could be saved and the number of redundancies reduced. It could have made a fundamental difference to what has ensued”.
Furthermore, apart from completely ignoring the strict legal requirements for due process, Neil Todd pointed out that: “It’s simple common decency to communicate openly, honestly and in good time with your employees, many of whom will have worked loyally for the company for many years.
“To blame COVID-19 for these sackings, when P&O took furlough payments and is part of a hugely profitable group of companies, is cynical.
“This is a shocking example of a major British employer acting in a wholly atrocious manner - attempting to bypass unions, sack hardworking employees and instead hire staff from agencies who will be underpaid and un-unionised. This is hardly the post-Brexit Britain that the Conservatives promised.
“In our view what they did was unlawful and we are considering all options including employment tribunal claims and High Court proceedings”.
These events at P&O have shone a light on the sad state of British employment rights more broadly. Indeed, Thompsons (LELR 750) recently asked what had happened to the government’s much-vaunted employment rights bill. There has been no sign of it, despite repeated promises and a specific commitment in the 2019 Conservative manifesto to introduce a raft of measures that would “balance the needs of employees and employers” if voted back into office.
If the behaviour of P&O is anything to go by, we are a long way from that balance.